My first ever public reading

My first ever reading in public, in a gallery in Bangsar, in front of about 20 to 30 people.

How was it like, for me? I was quite alright, quite calm, like that before the storm. I reached 67 Jalan Tempinis rather earlier, about 3, and there was nobody there yet, only someone who opened the door when I sounded the brass bell. He let me in, telling me people should be arriving by 3, and he shared some peanuts with me while I waited, sitting on the long bench, in front of the most fascinating piece of art I have ever come that close to.

It was painted onto four wooden panels (or were they canvasses stretched out), depicting the most unusual group of subjects: a small gathering of pigs or piglets (I can’t tell when they were painted 2 to 3 times bigger than me). They had their front trotters up in the air, and they seemed to be hanging them over some invisible fence or something. Strangely, I couldn’t see any nostril openings on their snouts. The tops of their heads were painted blanched of colour, almost white, as if some bright light is shining down from above them. I suspected there might be: hovering above their collective heads the artist had painted a coating of grey which looks, to me, a bit like smoke. The pigs’ hind trotters didn’t seem to be standing on any solid ground. The backdrop was all-over black, like the animals were existing in some black space. I sort of sensed they could be in some praying attitude. Was the artist attempting to tell the observer something about existence and religion?

I was interrupted in my musings by the next earliest visitor, who immediately went over to me and quickly presumed correctly I was one of the writers to read later. When he said his name I asked if he was the Dinesh from the Mywordup group. He wasn’t, and even if he wasn’t as vocal as the other Dinesh, he didn’t clamp up, and I learnt he had just completed college and was in journalism before that.

At around 3.30 Bernice arrived with a young goateed man, both hefting each a box of drinks and tubes of chips, and they proceeded towards the back, to remove the items and place them on the concrete table. Dinesh had to leave to do some errand nearby, and promised to be back in time to listen to the readings. Then, slowly, in a trickle, visitors and writers made their appearances through the front door. I waved hello to Dina, who was listening to Pang, who had two young men with him. I went to introduce myself. I already recognized Pang from a Brit Council dinner in honour of Edward Carey.

We then gathered at the table laden with wine, soft drinks, bottled water and chips, and did small talk. Bernice went around us, asking if we were alright with reading out our works. She said she understood that the acoustics might not be that good, especially in the last reading, when everyone had to gather in the space which opened to a bit of grass, so that the writers’ voices got lost easily in the open air. This time she would have each writer seated in front of the 4-panel pigs painting when it was his turn, and the audience seated before him, on little rattan stools and the long heavy wooden bench. She asked if I would prefer to have someone other than myself read my work. She explained that from experience she observed that most writers invited to read sometimes could not do the actual act of reading and be heard clearly. I declined, and said I would give it a go anyway. Dina hadn’t read aloud in front of an audience for quite a while, and she wasn’t sure if she could go through this reading. But, in the end, she read her stories by herself, and did it admirably, with the appropriate and correct inflections and intonations.

The reading started with Kam Raslan reading from a politically-themed non-fiction piece. His next story was an excerpt from a short story he was working on, which also had some political elements. When Dina’s turn came, she sat in front of us, and read from her bit from her novel, a very engaging tale of a man yearning to travel to America, the land of Elvis Presley. Her next short story was just as engaging and funny, about a Malay couple and their marriage. In the plot the wife applied some unusual stratagem to keep the husband from straying from her, which didn’t work very well. One evening when the couple attended a dinner at a Chinese restaurant, she thought absolutely certain that this time, this evening, her husband would fall into the clutches of some GRO. All I can tell you is the ending is a relief to her.

Next in the reading is a most interesting character, Rahmat. He wore dreadlocks, and at first Bernice had to coax him to speak a little louder. He started off a little shy, not looking at the audience, riffling in his carry-all bag for pieces of paper and books for read from. He read softly the first few bits of his work. And when it came to his last bit, he came on like a veritable actor, a performer. He stood up behind the stool, and raised his voice and read with some speed some poetical work, which had him accelerating near the end of it, till he sped on very, very swiftly, like a rhythmic train in stocatto, and ended like an engine dying down too fast. A very compelling piece.

Then there was a break, after which I would go up to read, after Maggie Tan and before Pang. By this time, after the red wine, I discovered the red wasn’t doing me any good. Normally wine would be loosening my tongue a bit, and I could get quite loquacious. But the wine I was imbibing was making me thirsty. I replaced the wine with water, and the way I sloshed the liquid from the bottle and the way I nearly lost my footing stepping off the raised platform holding the table with the drinks, onto the pebbled ground – it looked like I was already tipsy. But in reality it was more nerves than anything else giving me the light-headedness. I should be worried, as when talking to someone and taking in the water in my glass, I found my voice was getting softer – I thought I was already starting to lose my voice.

I carried my glass with me over to sit before the first writer in the second half of the reading. Maggie Tan is a student of Bernice, and she read a fairy tale piece, sitting properly, with her back straight, her arms stiffly and close by her sides. She had the most charming and child-like voice with an American accent. Bernice went up immediately after, and also read a sort-of fairy or children’s tale. In the wake of Maggie with her twee and cute voice, Bernice was like the Queen, with a deeper and harder edge to her voice, reading excerpts from a story just published in Silverfish’s Writing 5.

Then finally came my turn. I stood in front of the audience, and completely forgot to sit down. I began with a piece I told the listeners I thought would be the easiest to start off with, as this one rhymed and was metered. It went off ok – to me – and I managed to press my voice out harder in the stressed syllables, pounding my vocal cord out at the plosives. During the reading – two short shorts and a few poems – I saw the corners of the pieces of paper I was holding fluttering – and if I were to put it in verse – in the wind of my nervousness. In the poem about someone calling to a cat, I put in a bit of acting: extending my hand out and making a clawing move; stabbing my finger at an imaginary piece of newspaper. I did more of such, reading the other short short about a cross-dresser observed from the point of view of a Malay matron. I was reading the part in which I enounced “He? She? S-he?”, and looked up and looked straight into Pang’s eyes. What could he have been thinking at that point?

The pieces of printed paper I was holding had more poems I could continue reading from, but I thought the audience probably had enough of bad acting. I told the audience I could read more but I was stopping there, after that last piece.

The last writer for the afternoon gave a she-bang of a reading. Before Pang read it out, he warned us his writing usually got responses, and then some, from listeners. If ever there was a more flamboyant and more graphic piece of gay writing, akin to Edmund White, for eg, Pang’s piece had us all laughing and giggling wide-eyed with shock over his real-life antics.

The reading ended around after 6, and some of us stayed back for more small talk and drinks. I couldn't stay on a bit more as I just got a call on my mobile to meet up with a friend. Like I once told another writer, who gave a reading the last time also in Bangsar, I tended to always try out things, at lease once, for the experience. And this experience here is something I’m glad I didn’t miss out on.

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous says

    Way to go, Leon!! You did really well and it was lovely to read about it here too.

    Sharon


    dz says

    leon

    time you started working on a book. you did well and we forgot to HOLD HANDS!!!!


    Leon Wing says

    Thanks, Sharon, DZ. Very kind words from all of you.

    The very nice white-goateed gent there actually suggested I should be submitting my work to publications. I had met him before at a dinner, but for the life of me his name escaped me, and I thought it'd be rude to let on I forgot it!

    DZ, but we needn't have had to hold hands anyway. You held up tremendouslt well yourself, your reading so very expressive that I could picture your characters so very vividly. I'm waiting for YOUR book first!

    I should get cracking with a book, shouldn't I? Will put up extracts for comments when I get it going - hopefully.


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